Reviews & Profiles
Gulu's Walter Okello defeated paralysis to earn a living
Posted Friday, October 25 2013 at 00:00
It took a while for Walter Okello to get a job, but when he did, he gave it his all in spite of the paralysis on the right hand.
Along the streets of Kampala, it is quite normal to bump into either a shabbily dressed child or adult begging for money or something to eat. Some of them are disabled while others are not. But this is not what you observe in Gulu Town.
It is quite difficult to stumble across a beggar on the streets. If they are any, they are hardly noticed. Almost everyone does something productive.
One of such individuals is Walter Okello, a 30-year-old, whose right part of the body is paralysed. In spite of all this, he polishes and applies varnish to furniture for a living. “My job is to smoothen the edges of a particular piece of furniture after it has been made and then apply the required varnish,” Okello states with a little stammer in his voice.
Not born that way
Okello says that he was born a normal child. However, at about the age of five, he fell sick and was admitted to a local hospital in Gulu Town. After a month, he was discharged. But, a week later, he remembers waking up one morning and realising that one side of his body was numb. “I cried, screamed and called out my mother’s name after discovering that my hand and leg that were located on this particular side were lifeless,” he says.
Unfortunately, the disease also affected his speech because Okello stammers.
He says that he has not been able to receive the required treatment because it is costly. But that notwithstanding, Okello is determined to lead a decent life. The workstation he operates from is located in Gulu Town along Acholi Road. It is owned by a 24-year-old Justin Bongomin.
At the workstation
Bongomin describes his employee as very hardworking, quiet, and humble. “He is a very peaceful man who cannot harm a fly,” Bongomin says while laughing.
The workshop owner states that he hired Okello in July after he approached him for any kind of work at the workshop.
“Okello told me that he wanted to work because he did not want to end up begging on the streets. That is why I offered him the job,” he states. It is at this point that I witness Okello, who is dressed in a faded blue shirt and dirty maroon trousers folded up to his knees, doing something rather extraordinary but painful as well.
Using his left hand and leg, he drags himself to another part of the compound where there is an incomplete cupboard. As he does this, he winces in pain as droplets of sweat run down his dark-skinned face. When he gets to the piece of furniture, Okello pulls out a small cream piece of sand paper from his trousers’ pocket and starts scraping the cupboard. “I use my left hand to do everything,” he states.
The furniture which mostly comprise beds, cupboards and chairs are usually made by Bongomin on order with the help of two other boys. Whenever the trio completes their part, he takes over.
He is paid Shs5,000 daily. Although it may seem little, Okello who works from Monday to Saturday, says that the money has enabled him lead a decent life. “From this money, I can buy food for myself and pay rent,” he says.
Okello stays alone in a one-room hut erected in Tengona village, Gulu District for which he pays Shs10,000 as monthly rent.
Asked if he has a wife or children, Okello does not give a direct answer but instead he looks at me, smiles and then shyly looks at the ground.
After about a minute, Okello elevates his head and begins to speak again. This time, he avoids direct contact.